Dixon gets first career Top Fuel title in Las Vegas

Dixon gets first career Top Fuel title in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (Oct. 27) - Larry Dixon clinched his first NHRA POWERade Top Fuel title for the Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme Miller Lite Racing team on Sunday at the AC Delco NHRA Nationals on 'The Strip' at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's also the...

LAS VEGAS (Oct. 27) - Larry Dixon clinched his first NHRA POWERade Top Fuel title for the Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme Miller Lite Racing team on Sunday at the AC Delco NHRA Nationals on 'The Strip' at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's also the first championship strictly as a car owner for Prudhomme since he captured his fourth Funny Car crown in 1978 as a driver/owner. In the process of reaching his first Top Fuel Championship, Dixon swept both 2002 LVMS events, combining his win from earlier in the year with Sunday's victory over Tony Schumacher in the final round.

Larry Dixon.
Photo by Greg Gage.

His quarter final round win over Rhonda Hartman-Smith set the stage for Dixon and crew chief, Dick LaHaie to outdistance themselves from the Top Fuel field and secure their position as champions when the points differential exceeded the maximum 139 points needed to clinch the title outright. With his LVMS win, Dixon will leave Las Vegas with a 190-point lead.

That objective was accomplished when Dixon saw the win light in his lane as he crossed the finish line after he covered the quarter mile in 4.589 seconds, 323.35 mph to Hartman-Smith's time of 4.671 seconds at a speed of 308.50 mph.

"I'm still in shock a little bit," said Dixon. "When we won that round it was more relief than excitement. It's been a tough battle with Kenny (Bernstein) all year. We got off to a strong start, but then we struggled in the middle part of the year and they kept us honest. I'm thrilled to have this sewn up here so we can just go to Pomona and race.

"I told Kenny last year at Las Vegas when he won the semi-finals and we lost, which clinched the championship for him, that I was glad he was racing another season so I could have a heads up fair and square try to race him for it. It's like the Ali-Frazier rematch. Fortunately, we won the rematch. They're such great race team and they force you to have to be better.

"We scored more points last year and didn't win the championship than we did this year. I'm thrilled to get it done here in Las Vegas. I'm so thankful to bring a championship to Snake. That guy took a shot on me when I didn't have anything to bring to the table. What am I going to get him to say thanks? Putting the No. 1 on the side of his car, especially in his 40th year in drag racing. I'm real thankful for him allowing me to drive his hot rod. Just being able to wear the No. 1 for a season is more than I ever could dream of."

Dixon also became only the third Top Fuel driver to ever lead and win the championship points standings wire-to-wire matching the accomplishment of Kelly Brown in 1978 and 1989 when Gary Ormsby took his title. Also, he tied the mark of Gary Scelzi with nine wins in a single season. Dixon reached it the quickest as Scelzi nabbed his ninth win at the 2000 NHRA Finals in Pomona.

Furthermore, Dixon and crew Dick LaHaie have accomplished all the goals set before them, overcoming many of the setbacks that a championship season can produce. In addition to recording nine wins in 2002, he increased his record-breaking final round appearances record to 14 in a single Top Fuel season.

Dixon has set the NHRA National event low E.T. four times in 2002 (Phoenix, Las Vegas 1, Bristol, Tenn. and Topeka), and set the fastest speed of the event of 325.37 mph in Las Vegas back in April. He has amassed a 57 to 12 win/loss record so far this season, tying his own mark of 57 round wins that he established during his stellar 2001 season and could tie Kenny Bernstein's record of 61 round wins for most round wins in a season if he should win the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona on Nov. 10 . However, Dixon accomplished this feat in only 69 rounds of competition. The Miller Lite team has recorded 14 runs in the 4.50 zone in eliminations accounting for 20 per cent of the team's efforts, with his 35 runs in the 4.60 category giving him a 51 per cent ratio of competitive runs in that ultra quick category. Dixon won the opening race at Pomona, the Gatornationals (Gainesville, Fla.), the spring event at 'The Strip' in Las Vegas, at Bristol, Tenn., Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Memphis and again the fall race in Las Vegas.

"I think it's sweeter than all the rest," said car owner Prudhomme, who won four NHRA Winston Funny Championships from 1975-78. "At this point of my career, as being a car owner, it's great. Also being able to put together the Miller Lite team and watch a young guy like that win the championship. It's one of the better moments that I've ever spent and maybe the best."

Sunday's race found Dixon gaining a first round victory over Scott Weis with the Miller Lite team running a time of 4.626 seconds, 321.81 mph to Weis' time of 4.867 seconds, 294.24 mph.

After taking out Rhonda Hartman-Smith in eliminations, he advanced to the semi-finals to meet Andrew Cowin.

Dixon's steadiness showed when Cowin red-lighted away his chances in the semi-finals allowing him to reach his 14th final round of the season after taking the round win running a time of 4.622 seconds, 323.12 mph.

In the finals, Dixon raced hard to the quarter-mile finish line against Tony Schumacher and clicked the clocks with another consistent pass of 4.613 seconds, 320.28 mph to Schumacher's run of 4.674 seconds, 314.75 mph to take his ninth win.

"It's a nice ending to the day," smiled Dixon. "I think everybody comes into a race and wants to win. And if you win, you get the most points. That was our game plan and I didn't think we would clinch it here because Kenny has such a strong team. I'm probably still a little speechless over the whole thing.

"These are things that you dream about as a kid, watching Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, the Snake and people like that. You want to be like them when you're a kid and to finally get a shot to go out there and race is tremendous. To get to this point and actually win a championship, even one, is huge. I've got to thank Don Prudhomme, Dick LaHaie and the Miller Brewing Company for sticking with me and letting me come into my own. I'm just thrilled to be a part of this team."

Dixon will receive his POWERade championship Top Fuel driving trophy and other awards along with his check of $400,000 on Monday, Nov. 11 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood at the NHRA Awards ceremony. The next NHRA National event will be the final race of the 2002 season at the Pomona Raceway for the 38th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals slated to run on Nov. 7-10.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Andrew Cowin , Don Garlits , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie